Solidaridad's Quinceanera

Jul 29, 2008

Yesterday was the 15th Anniversary of the Municipalidad of Solidaridad. One of my friends is here completing her research for her masters thesis on the effects of tourism on local populations and has been studying Playa del Carmen in the last 15 years by interviewing people from the government and all walks of life. It was important for her research to go hear what the municipal president had to say and also to pick up the magazine that they created for the event. Since I'm always game to do anything different, I tagged along.

We got there early and got a good seat in the middle of the audience. The stage was pretty impressive. We had watched them building it over the last couple days and I think it ended up looking very sophisticated! This was quite a big night for many of the locals, who came out dressed up for the event.

After a few songs played by a large band, there were various speeches from local government officials. They then played a nicely-made movie about the history of Playa del Carmen which included lots of pictures of Playa then and now. I wasn't lucky enough to have seen Playa 15 years ago, but the pictures reminded me of Punta Allen- that's a lot of growth in 15 years!

After the speeches and movie ended, there were fireworks over the municipal palace and then we all turned our seats to face the another stage for the rock concert. The artist was a Venezuelan singer that I didn't know. We stayed for the first couple songs, but the picture above shows what we could see on the stage, so we got a little bored (plus the music was sort of cheesy), so we left.

I would say on a scale of 1-10 for interesting things to do, this fell at about a 3 or 4, but it's nice to know what's going on in the community. I did learn that the current municipal president is the first one to be a native Playense, which is pretty cool.

¡Felicitaciones Solidaridad!

Rio Secreto is SO worth it!

Jul 28, 2008

I love to play tourist in my own hometown. Seriously. When I lived in New York one of the best things I ever did was take the Harlem Gospel Tour, which I highly recommend, but this post is about living in Mexico, so I won't go into that.

One of my friends has her daughter visiting her from Mexico City, so this weekend we took the Alltournative Tours Rio Secreto Tour. Rio Secreto is an underground cave and river system that is just south of Playa del Carmen on the Carretera Federal (just south of Xcaraet). The tour isn't on their website yet, but let me tell you, it's worth the $510 pesos ($50 US) per person. Even better, if you have your local Quintana Roo ID it's only $200 pesos ($20 US).

We made a reservation (highly recommended as another family we went on the tour with had been turned away the day before) and arrived at the entrance at around 1pm and after a short wait they put us in these really cool 4 wheel drive trucks and took us way out into the jungle. After about a 15 or 20 minute ride we arrived at the starting point for Rio Secreto.

It was really cool for me because I was the only American in the truck. The other group in our truck were Caribbean, so they split us into a Spanish-speaking group (for me and my party and another Mexican family) and a French-speaking group (for the Caribbeans). I love being in a situation where I can just attend in Spanish instead of constantly translating for Hans or anyone else. I know it's selfish, but it's so much fun.

I don't have any pictures because I forgot my camera, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway because you aren't allowed to take the camera into the cave with you. We were required to strip to our swim suits (we weren't even allowed to wear watches), and then take a shower before being given a helmet with a light on it and water shoes. From there, where they provided lockers for our clothing and whatnot, we went to the wetsuit station and got shortie wetsuits and life jackets.

Our guide, Laura, gave us some information about the history of the caves on the Yucatan Peninsula and their significance for the Mayan People and then we went into the nearest Cenote. The cave we were about to explore covers many kilometers and is connected to several cenotes on the property.

The first part of the tour was in a dry cave that is still growing. The formations are unbelievably beautiful. As a cave diver, I see lots of caves regularly, but this is the first still-living cave that I have seen in the Yucatan and the difference that 10,000 years makes in the level of cave formations is impressive.

Our guide pointed out various formations and told us their names. We learned that cave explorers are hungry people since she pointed out "fried eggs," "bacon," and "macaroni."

Inside the cave we also saw a tarantula, a cave spider, a cat fish and a blind crayfish. After about 40 minutes (a guess, since no one had watches) we came to a place where we had to swim through the water. Once we reached the other side, we all sat down in a circle and had a silent moment where we turned out our lights so we could see how black the absence of light is and how loud the absence of sound is.

After that, we worked our way out of the cave and then after a quick shower and change we headed over to the lunch spread they had laid out for us. We ate delicious ham sandwiches on croissants with cheese and fruit and your choice of agua de tamarindo or agua de jamaica.

All in all, the tour lasted about 3 hours or so. I would highly recommend this tour for anyone who likes to see natural formations. One of the kids in our group was nine and I would say that it would be good for kids as small as 4 years old as long as they didn't mind cold-ish water (it's 78 degrees year-round).

We didn't buy any photos because they started at about $25 US, but they were absolutely beautiful. I plan to take visitors on this tour the next time I have some. If you're from the area, I highly recommend you check it out. Alltournative runs a very tight operation, it's always well done.

Zeta Gas Never Ceases to Amaze

Jul 24, 2008

We had been out of gas for who knows how long. See, I don't do too much cooking at home and we have a little electric hotplate and a George Foreman grill, so even when I have to, I can do it without gas. The cold showers were actually refreshing. I was being lazy about ordering a refill and it wasn't until someone reminded me that if we get a hurricane and lose power we won't be able to cook without gas if we don't have any that I finally bit the bullet and headed over to Zeta.

The lady behind the counter spoke incredibly fast. I think I got about 70% of what she was saying. That always makes me feel like such a dud. Anyway, we put in our request and she told us something about how the trucks aren't in this area all the time anymore, since they're servicing Cancun now, too, so she didn't know when they would come and she gave us a number to call in case they didn't show up tomorrow.

I set my mind on a few weeks of waiting punctuated by new requests to Zeta, and we went home to get some lunch. On the way out the door for lunch (remember, I don't cook much) Hans said, "Hey! It's the Zeta Gas guy! Talk to him!"

Turns out they were looking for our apartment number (they aren't numbered, so it's not that helpful to give that info out). Zeta Gas processed our request and sent the guys out less than an hour after our first, that's FIRST, request was submitted! Unbelievable!

I have to say that the efficiency in this country is mind blowing. You see, I just always assume that nothing will happen in any sort of timely fashion here, so when it does it's like Christmas! See what I'm doing here with my expectations? Low. I've learned that as long as I don't expect the system to work, I'll always be surprised!

I can't believe that the company that is generally the bane of my existence delivered my gas almost immediately! Gotta love it.

Some Photos of Cenote Dzitnup

Jul 21, 2008

Ever since Michele wrote about Cenote Dzitnup, just outside Valladolid, I knew it was going to be on the list of places I needed to see. We headed over while Hans' parents were in town, partly because Valladolid is a cute Colonial city and partly because we knew about Cenote Dzitnup (but mostly because it was a good stop between Holbox and Playa).

Cenotes are sinkholes that are created when the ground collapses into an underground river. Sometimes the collapse is complete, resulting in an open sinkhole that can either look like a pond or can have a little island in the middle made up of the rocks and dirt that collapsed in. Sometimes there is an air dome and just a little part of the land collapses. This is the case with Cenote Dzitnup.

Cenotes on the western part of the Yucatan Peninsula are generally deeper than the ones found around Playa. Because the water runs deeper underground, they get more of these dome-style cenotes. This one is pretty awe inspiring and coincidentally the most-photographed cenote in Mexico (according to our host at Casa Hamaca, where we stayed the night before).

Those are tree roots hanging down through the hole. Mayans used to look for water by looking for that type of tree and listening for the Mot-Mot bird. The birds are attracted by the mosquitos and other bugs that they like to eat, and they happen to have a fairly recognizable call. They say "mot mot."

I am always amazed that there is so much natural beauty in the world in all different forms. I feel blessed to be able to see cenotes and the Caribbean sea in the same day. As a friend of mine always reminds me when we are sitting on the beach, "People pay thousands of dollars to come and see this ocean for a week, and this is just what we do on Saturdays." Kinda puts it into perspective...

Enanitos Toreros at Expo Riviera Maya 2008

Jul 17, 2008

Last night was the first night of the Expo Riviera Maya 2008, essentially a State Fair, in Playa del Carmen. We rounded up a couple fellow expats and headed over for (what was for us) the main attraction: Enanitos Toreros, or Midget Bullfighting! (Ok, technically "Little Dwarfs Bullfighting," sheesh!)

*Warning: Mexico is not necessarily politically correct, so I advise you to stop reading this if you are, and are easily offended.

Since you're still reading, bring on the midget bullfighters!

Solomon had seen the posters out by his new business venture, Playa Resale, and as soon as he told us about it, we knew we had to see this for ourselves. I had never seen any sort of bullfighting before, much less midget bullfighting, but I had been to the El Cedral fair last year in Cozumel and it was a highlight of that trip, so I was keen to check it out on a grander scale.

This bus is one way you could get to the Fair.

As we approached the gates the policia stopped us and asked us if we were visiting or lived here. They then told us that there were lots of bad people at the fair, so we should behave ourselves and if we had any problems, let the policia know. In other words, "You ain't on the 5th Ave. anymore, Gringo, so don't get drunk and cause problems."

With that advice in hand, we headed in and took a look at the livestock. They had some impressive bulls and a horse painted to look like a zebra, several chicks and piglets and other farm animals.

On the main stage the Merida Town Council (that's what their sashes said) was putting on a "Welcome to Yucatan" performance, complete with poetry and dancing. We stopped and watched the dancing for a while. I've always liked the traditional huipil dresses, but seeing them on stage really drove home just how beautiful they can be (of course the women wearing them were all gorgeous, too).

While we were watching the performance, Hans decided to try a Marquesita, a freshly prepared crepe filled with cheese and your choice of cajeta (like dulce de leche), lechera (like really sweetened, really condensed milk) or Nutella. Hans opted for cheese and Nutella. Once they place the cheese and your filling in the middle, they roll the whole thing up into a sort of flute shape. The crepe hardens somewhat like an ice cream cone, but nowhere near as thick. They were tasty, but at the same time sort of... interesting... cheese and chocolate together, in one item. (But then I like peanut butter and chocolate and I'm sure there are many a Mexican who would think that was weird).

We had read on the poster that the midget bullfighting would be at 6:30pm, so we were pretty bummed that we had missed it. Then we consulted the schedule for the fair that was painted on a wall near the livestock. Apparently we hadn't missed it, it was scheduled for 9pm. So we headed over to the bull ring where we consulted a third schedule of events and learned that it was listed there to start at 10pm. Finally we just asked the guy selling the tickets and he confirmed that it would be starting at 10pm, we hadn't missed it!

We decided to wander over by the rides to kill time before the midget bullfighting. Hans and Sol got this great idea to have a go on this puke-erific ride. I politely bowed out and chose to shoot this video of the whole thing (in case it launched off it's axle, you know). I think I compressed this video too much- it's sort of poor quality, but this isn't the "important" stuff.

By now it was just about time for the midget bullfighting to start and we could see that people were starting to enter the bull ring, so we bought some tickets and got ourselves a seat. There were people walking around selling everything from beers and sodas to mangoes and these cornstarch snacks that tasted like Bugles.

We only waited a few minutes and the midgets came out. There were five enanitos and two tall clowns. Before you get all huffy, they don't kill the bulls. They aren't even stabbing them. They make them charge at their capes and then try to wrestle them to the ground. They also do silly things like the two clowns would dance close together and then separate at the last minute as the bull charged through.

Oh, and they're calves, not full sized bulls. They look like teenagers.

All in all, the midget bullfighting was... well... strange. It's not like anything I've seen before (though I've only been to one Rodeo in the US, so something like it might be more common there than I would know). I did learn that, despite my gung-ho attitude about wanting to see a real corrida de toros whilst living in Mexico, I don't think I would be able to stomach it. I got worried for the little bulls when they got tackled. I can't imagine how I would feel if they were really being killed.

I guess it's just one more item off my list of things to do in my lifetime: Enanito Toreros? Check.

If you want a more in depth look at enanitos toreros, you could check out the book that this artist wrote. The photos alone might make it worth the purchase.

Best Weekend Ever

Jul 14, 2008

According to Chico, this was the best weekend ever. On Saturday we went to visit a friend who has rented a house on the beach in Tulum. There were about 5 other dogs running around on the beach. On Sunday we went to Sian Ka'an Biosphere (shhh... we snuck in our dog) and relaxed on the beach with our friend Solomon and his dog, Jake.

Chico thoroughly enjoyed his two full days of beach life, although he would like to add that salt water stings your eyes. Now back to his regularly scheduled nap.

Fun with Spanish

Jul 12, 2008

Hubby has been learning Spanish and recently he made two funny mistakes that have been coming up as inside jokes again and again:

Speaking to the mechanic who changed our oil, trying to ask him how much it cost:
"Cuanto pesas? Cuanto cuestas?"
Translation: "How much do you weigh? How much do you cost?"
He just got a funny look from the mechanic.

Upon seeing our new neighbor, a full grown Mexican man, cowering behind his door, looking at our dog with eyes as big as dinner dishes, Hans tried to tell him that Chico doesn't do anything (no le hace nada):
"No sé nada! No muerde!"
Translation: "I don't know anything! He doesn't bite!"

I'm sure that between the two of us we've caused quite a bit of entertainment with our errors. Here are a couple I have made:

When trying to explain why I didn't want to make empanada wrappers from scratch:
"No tengo mantequilla ni arena."
Translation: "I don't have butter or sand."
I meant harina- flour

When working on commands:
"Sientate y sientete!"
Tanslation: "Sit down and touch yourself!"
Pehaps this more useful than it appears... lol.

Mexican Ingenuity Solves Handicap Accessibility Problem

Jul 11, 2008

I love this guy's contraption! We saw him in Cozumel the other day. He has built a scooter that has a ramp on the back so he can wheel his wheelchair right up and drive away. No need to transfer out of his chair or ask anyone for help. He even has room for a passenger in the back. And, he's solved that pesky problem of too much sun that one can experience whilst riding a scooter.

He and his business partner were setting up a little jewelry stand that he had transported in the back of his scooter when I asked him if I could take his picture.

Cozumel has nice Blow Holes!

Jul 10, 2008

By now you're probably thinking that I never work, but really, I only take time off and traipse around Mexico while I have people visiting. Since yesterday was my mother-in-law's last full day in Mexico, we decided to take a trip over to Cozumel to do a little shopping and sight-seeing.

The main town in Cozumel, San Miguel, is nice enough, but not necessarily worth spending a whole day there. A little Zócalo (plaza) sits at the end of the dock where the Ferry from Playa del Carmen stops which is surrounded by stores and booths that are selling trinkets and souvenirs. We walked around the square and then headed south along the Malecón (waterfront walkway). There we found much of the same: t-shirt shops, tequila stores, silver stores and cigar shops.

After a nice lunch at Las Palmeras Restaurant, which was surprising because it's at the end of the ferry dock and I thought it would be a tourist trap, we rented a Jeep so we could drive around the island.

It has been a long time since I have seen the "wild" side of the island. We always came to Cozumel for the reef diving and seldom had time to venture to the other side. Actually, who am I kidding? We just wanted to be lazy and relax by the pool drinking margaritas on our last day in town!

The beaches on the wild side seem to alternate between sandy stretches and rocky stretches. There are a few beach bars and one hotel, plus a bunch of cabañas at a surfing lodge.

As we were driving we noticed a stretch of rocky coast that had several blow holes, naturally, we had to stop and check them out.

The air was blowing out and being sucked back in with a great deal of force. You can't really tell from the video, but the sound of the ocean breathing was overwhelming. It was so cool, I had to stick my hand in one to feel the force of the suction.

After our blow hole experience we headed further south to the Reggae Bar for a drink and then back up to San Miguel just in time to catch the ferry home.

Spider Monkey Maddness!

Jul 9, 2008

Last time my mother-in-law was in town we stopped by to visit the monkeys at the Jungle Place and she really wanted to bring my father-in-law. So of course, this week we made our way over to play with the monkeys and got some great videos. Here are some monkeys playing with my in-laws:

Here's another video of me getting a thorough grooming by my new friend Teva. Followed by me being used as a trampoline.

Swimming with the Whale Sharks in Holbox

Jul 8, 2008

Last week we took a couple days off to head up to Holbox (pronounced "Hole-Bosh"), an island off the northern tip of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It's about a 4 hour drive from Playa del Carmen to Chiquilá where you can take a ferry across to Holbox.

There are many things to do and see in Holbox, but our reason for going was to snorkel with the Whale Sharks. They are the largest living species of fish (since whales are mammals, not fish). Whale Sharks are actually sharks, they have cartilage instead of bone and their tail is oriented up-and-down rather than side-to-side, but they are filter feeders, which makes them similar to whales. The locals used to call them Dominoes because of the patterns on their skin.

The Whale Sharks come to Holbox every summer (July and August being the best months, though the season runs May 5 - Sept 15). The currents from the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico collide just off the coast, bringing plenty of yummy plankton to the surface. They can also be seen in Honduras at different times of the year. They have been spotted all over the planet, but since they can dive extremely deep, they're still being studied to determine their migratory patterns.

Holbox island is a retreat in itself. There are plenty of quiet hotels and gorgeous beaches. Because it is located on the Gulf of Mexico, there are no waves and the color of the water is milky and different from the waters of the Caribbean Sea.

We stayed in Hotelito Casa las Tortugas and highly recommend it for anyone looking for some serious downtime or a romantic getaway. The hotel is composed of several beautifully constructed and artfully arranged cabañas. We stayed in a simple room that had a queen sized bed and an extra single bed for $85 US a night. Our room had a bathroom and a balcony with hammock. My in-laws stayed in a two story efficiency with a little kitchenette for $140 a night. They also had a deck with hammock and ocean views. The hotel offers Whale Shark tours for $90 US per person.

The ride out to the where the Whale Sharks eat takes about an hour and a half. Along the way our snorkel guide pointed out the various lighthouses and fishing camps and showed us several sets of sea turtle tracks. Summer is also the time when sea turtles lay their eggs. Holbox is very active with sea turtle conservation, so there is undoubtedly lots to do for sea turtle aficionados.

Once we found some Whale Sharks (we probably found about 7 or 8 different ones) we would pull the boat near them and two people would jump out to snorkel, accompanied by the guide. It's quite a bit of work to keep up with them. They're just cruising along scooping plankton off the surface of the water, but to us they're moving at a decent clip.

The Whale Sharks we saw were about the same size as the boat we were on, so I would say they were probably about 30 feet, maybe larger. The captain and guide let us get in as many times as we could take. By about 11:30 we were pretty pooped. By noon we decided we should head back to the island.

I have swum with the Whale Sharks twice now and both times we have made the same mistake: deciding to leave the island on the same day as the swimming. Once we got back to the hotel we were pooped and all enjoyed some fruity cocktails and a snack at the hotel bar. The next time I go I will stay at least two nights. We didn't want to spend the money and wanted to get on to Valladolid to see a colonial town. It was very hard to say goodbye to the beach.

If you go to Holbox, I highly recommend you also take a tour of some of the surrounding islands. We took a 3 hour tour the afternoon we arrived which took us to Isla Passión (which is very small), Aguas Dulces (an awesome spring-fed cenote on a nearby island), and Isla Pájaros (for bird watching). In another week or so the pink flamingos will be in town, so it's a bird watchers fantasy.

Plan to bring bug repellent, as the mosquitos are very hungry. We also learned a trick for the sand fleas. Apparently, if you rub a little baby oil on your skin the sand fleas suffocate on contact and can't bite you.

We will definitely be going back, possibly this summer. Hans and I would like to go for three days to really relax and get some better photos of the Whale Sharks (I mentioned that hubby was photo-obsessed, didn't I)?

Love in the Streets

Jul 7, 2008

This is an all too common sight here in Mexico. Yesterday, as we were leaving the apartment, we caught these two lovers in the act of making more babies. Unfortunately, if this dog has puppies they'll likely be scrawny street dogs themselves, unless someone in the expat community scoops them up and tries to find a good home for them.

In unrelated news, my in-laws have been in town, so we did lots of traveling (that's why it's been quiet here on the blog). We went to Holbox to swim with the whale sharks (awesome photos to come) and then stopped by Valladolid and Cenote Dzitnup and then Tulum. I'll be updating you on my travels soon.

Guayas: A Very Interesting Fruit

Jul 1, 2008

Ever since I found the Guaya, Handmade Goodies blog I've been wanting to try a guaya. Since Jordana said it's guaya time, I decided to head over to the main square here in Playa del Carmen and see if the fruit ladies were selling any. Whadaya know, they were!

I bought the bunch you see at top for $15 pesos (roughly $1.50 US) and asked the lady to show me how to eat one. Basically, you stick a fingernail into the side of the guaya and the skin cracks open. The skin is thin, but tough and almost looks like a lime skin, but there's no thick, white part to it.

So you crack it open and it reveals this little orangish-pinkish colored fruit. It reminds me a lot of the process you use when eating a lychee berrie, in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if guayas are remotely related to the lychee.

Then you squeeze the pinky-orangy fruit into your mouth, much like a scuppernong (for my Southern readers). Sorry Northern readers, I can't think of anything similar except a lychee.

The fruit is probably 80% seed. There's huge seed inside that is white. The flavor isn't like anything I've ever tasted, really. It's sort of bitter sweet, or sweet and sour. I can't relate it to anything really, except maybe a SweetTart, but not as sweet.

The flesh is very stringy and the whole thing isn't really juicy or anything. It's sort of hard to separate the flesh from the seed, so I decided just to sort of suck the flavor off of it and just bite a little at the flesh. It's not the sort of fruit that will fill you up, it's more like a snack you would eat for the flavor- like candy.

Hubby thinks it's an acquired taste and he hasn't acquired it yet. I think I acquired it by the second one I tasted. I don't know if I'll run out and buy them every week, but they're pretty tasty and I'm glad I gave it a shot. Yet another cool, Mexican fruit.